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Tolu Bommalata: A rare theatrical art

May 02, 2015

The distinctive feature of this art form is how through puppetry it is a form of entertainment embodied with moral teachings.

Tolu Bommalata

Hyderabad: The heterogeneity of folk culture is one of the unique attributes found in India. A country where one can find mountains, seas, deserts, and dense forests; it is incredible how India’s cultural diversity has withstood centuries.

Every state has its unique folklore which reflects the teachings passed on by generations. One such form of folk art is Tolu Bommalata found in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Tolu Bommalata, a shadow puppetry theatre, has been a form expression in Andhra Pradesh since centuries and has slowly spread to the neighbouring states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Orissa.

The distinctive feature of this art form is how through puppetry it is a form of entertainment embodied with moral teachings. It is and has been widely adored and followed by the rural folk of Andhra Pradesh. Dalavai Kullayappav, a craftsman of Tolu Bommalata art for more than 20 years, who belongs from the Nimmalakunta village of Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh, speaks how he learnt the art from his father who has also received national award for his contribution to the traditional arts and crafts.

He says that Nimmalakunta village is the place where Tolu Bommalata artists settled around 400 years ago when they arrived in the subcontinent. Leather is the main material used in Tolu Bommalata art and crafts.

The art of Tolu Bommalata has also evolved with the changing times. Kullayappav said that besides making puppets, artists have started making crafts which reflect Tolu Bommalata folk. To change a 400 year old tradition and create crafts based on it for the world to see, is the adaptability shown by the artists from Andhra Pradesh. This is the only source of livelihood for Kullayappav and many other craftsmen. The government has also supported the artisans and craftsmen by incentivizing the traditional arts and crafts sector.

Support has also been provided by organizing exhibitions to showcase the crafts and introducing programs for training of the artisans. Kullayappav also added that the government needs to assist the artisans on marketing and capacity building for the sustenance of the art form. In a candid mood, Kullayappav mentions how the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu was impressed by one of his paintings and showered Kullayappav with praise and also presented an award.

Listen to the radio programme on Leather Puppetry
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As Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political leader said, “People without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without roots”. The future of Tola Bommalata folk art is full of uncertainties.

Younger generations have to take up the responsibility to maintain the art form and the government also has to be more proactive so that such precious art form is not lost. Culture and folklore are the indicators of the people’s historical past that can be only be salvaged if there is support and continuity.

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